Focus marking in a language lacking pragmatic presuppositions

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University of Calgary
This study investigates the effect of a language-wide lack of pragmatic resuppositions on focus marking (often taken to be inherently presuppositional). The language of investigation is Nɬeʔkepmxcin (Thompson River Salish). I show that discourse participants treat presuppositions triggered by focus in the same way as lexical presuppositions. Addressees do not challenge presuppositions that they do not share (strikingly unlike in English). Speakers, however, typically avoid using presuppositions not shared by the addressee. As a result, speakers avoid using their own utterances to mark narrow focus at all, a striking difference from English. I argue that this is due to another pragmatic constraint subject to cross-linguistic parameterization: while the speaker’s own utterance counts as being in the common ground for the purposes of marking presuppositions in English, Salish speakers do not generally mark presuppositions unless they have overt evidence that the addressee shares these presuppositions. This results in a radically different focus marking strategy within a discourse turn as opposed to across discourse turns.
Linguistics, Pragmatics, Focus (Linguistics), Constraints (Linguistics), Context (Linguistics), Ntlakyapamuk language, Interior Salish languages
Koch, K. A. (2011). Focus marking in a language lacking pragmatic presuppositions. Calgary Working Papers in Linguistics, 27(Fall), 1-17.